FIRE’s 2008 Summer Conference was the first large scale effort by the Campus Freedom Network to connect students from across the country with some of the foremost national experts on free speech, due process, and religious liberty. Initially, we had estimated hosting roughly 40 students. After the interest in the conference far outstripped this estimate, we added another eight students to accommodate the influx of applications.
The conference was a three day, two night affair, held at the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Philadelphia from Thursday, June 26th – Saturday, June 28th. During the dinner, famed journalist and Manhattan Institute scholar John Leo gave the keynote address. The next day’s session was filled to the brim with lectures, panels and general activity. Students heard from FIRE Co-Founder Harvey Silverglate, Senior Counsel Steve Aden of the Alliance Defense Fund, Stanford Law Professor Derek Shaffer and Professor of Brooklyn College and author KC Johnson all in one morning. That afternoon, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff gave a presentation about students’ rights, while FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley and Samantha Harris, Director of FIRE’s Spotlight program, explained the dangers and prevalence of speech codes on campus. KC Johnson stunned listeners with a complete review of the travesty of the Duke University lacrosse case in his after-dinner speech. Finally, on Saturday morning, filmmaker Evan Coyne Maloney gave a presentation about the use of new media in the fight for liberty on college campuses and then a panel of students from prominent FIRE cases concluded the conference.
The feedback we received from the conference was extremely positive. Each participant was asked to fill out a feedback form to give the staff a comprehensive evaluation of all aspects of the program. On average, attendees rated their experience at the conference as a 4.42 out of a possible 5. One participant, when asked whether the conference was what she expected, wrote quite succinctly, “Yes and yes. It was interesting and helpful. I’m looking forward to sharing my experience with everyone on campus.” With all of the helpful suggestions from students, other staffers and our own observations, we look forward to having another, even more successful conference next summer. This conference has certainly proved to be effective at galvanizing student interest in reclaiming their rights on campus. With the help of our supporters students can look forward to more events like it in the future.